Chapter Forty. Tyler
It echoed through the room, but no one bothered to tell her to watch her language. There she stood, in a white dress that reminded me of a small child but had a womanly look to it, a beanie on the floor behind her, but even from this middle row, I spotted every bruise and scar. The lines up her legs that were from surgeries. Her abdomen, which was covered by a thin layer of lace, was spotted with dark marks and her face… Oh her beautiful face had cuts with blacks and blues.
No one moved. Even the crew seemed cemented. She was a sight, that was all I could describe. I remembered how she had the gash at the back of her head and wondered what the people behind her thought, but as I looked her over, I remembered how I had seen her like this before. I had seen that pattern of bruising and had cleaned those cuts that were now torn open. It was the same person who had beaten her before.
My mind yelled at me that it was her father, but I couldn’t wrap my head around it. He looked kind. He seemed nice to almost anyone but me. Hell, he was polite whenever he bumped into someone. He was protective of Nicola and everything else I thought a father should be like. But he was the only person who had access to Nicola.
“Are you fucking kidding me?” Lucy finally broke the silence, “Nicola?! I want a revote!” She shouted and a majority agreed.
Soon they were all shouting for a revote and Nicola looked like she couldn’t move, her eyes watering, but not letting a tear slip through. Yet she let them yell at her like that. Let them treat her like shit. She didn’t fight back like she usually did. She didn’t get angry or stand up taller, but shrunk. Her feet slowly came together so that she looked like a stick, then finally, like she had been trying to hold it all back, she fell to her knees.
That’s when I ran up there. No one heard me shoving through or how my feet hit almost every obstacle. They were all too busy screaming at her, saying how she deceived them, she wasn’t a member of this town. Everyone agreed with Lucy because she had the money to support them all for the rest of their life. And it only fueled my anger more.
“Nicola!” I shouted, as I finally got onto the stage and ran to her.
They had turned off the mic, because I could hear her gently sobbing as I got closer. They didn’t dare do anything else though. They were stuck. Amazed by the way she was being treated. They hadn’t judged her. They had let her voice and her attitude decide their verdicts, rather than looks and they couldn’t believe that these people hadn’t cared.
I went to hug her, but she shrunk back. She whipped her head up, her eyes wide with fear. She thought I was going to hurt her. My heart cracked and I felt so bad for this girl in front of me that I could’ve fallen and sobbed with her right then if my anger wasn’t controlling me.
“No,” I said, but it was probably like a whisper against the noise, “I’m not mad at you. I’m mad at them Nicola,” I took in a deep breath and leaned in just a bit closer, “I love you.”
Yes, it was romantic, and an on the dot thing that I maybe shouldn’t have done, because then she looked even more scared of me. Her body moving so that she was sitting on her butt and scooted back just a bit.
“Nicola,” I said, but she was scared. So hurt. And now I was mad.
I turned from her and marched off the stage, the noise slowly diminishing as they watched me march towards Lucy and point my finger right in her face, “You little bitch.”
“How dare you speak to me that way!” She gasped, “In front of my parents, Tyler!”
“Don’t you even start with that! You are a heartless little bitch who has no thoughts for anyone but yourself!”
“Tyler,” She gasped again like I was being cruel.
“No Lucy, I want you to open your damn eyes and look at that girl on the stage. Do you see her up there? She’s frightened half to death. This is what she was afraid of. This is what she was trying to avoid her whole time here and you’ve done this to her!” I wanted to grab her, to slap her, to do anything to make her feel some kind of sting, “You deserve to have-”
I was cut off by someone putting their hand on my back. I turned around, ready to hit whoever had kept me from yelling at the little bitch when I saw Nicola’s face. She was tensed, her eyes closed, as if expecting a blow, and her cheeks had faint, glistening tear trails over the still developing bruises. When she did open her eyes, they were red and still filled with unspilled water. Without a word, she pleaded for me to drop it. To just leave it and walk away.
“No,” I shook my head.
She opened her mouth, but choked on the words. I went to hold her then, but she put up a hand and I backed up, “Tyler,” Everyone was trying to listen in, hoping for some smart ass comment or for her to tell me to go ahead so that they had another reason to yell at her, but her voice seemed so sad and hurt, and it was her next sentence that confirmed how horrible she felt, “Let it go. She’s not worth getting mad over.”
“Not worth it?” I yelled at her, but when she cringed, I lowered my voice, “Not worth it? Nicola, you don’t deserve this. She is worth getting mad over because she is a little bitch who doesn’t know how to stop.”
Lucy protested in the background, but I didn’t pay any attention to a word she said. It didn’t matter to me. All I wanted to hear was Nicola.
“Exactly!” He voice rose slightly higher before lowering back to a calming, depressed tone, “No matter what you do to convince her of anything. She won’t stop. That’s why she’s not worth it. You can get mad and yell at her all you want, but she grew up acting this way. She was basically taught that being this rude to people is acceptable and you can’t change that Tyler.”
“Why not?” She shot back, each word took energy and I could see it, but I couldn’t stop myself from continuing to argue, “You want an example? Take me. I watched my mother die. Okay? To me, death is something acceptable. Death isn’t something to cry over or be pissed about. Death is just another part of life. Now look at you. Your mother died and you can’t even handle the thought of death without lashing out. Same thing happened, different circumstances and different ways to deal with it. Neither way is wrong, but neither is right. I could argue with you all day, but you wouldn’t budge from your position. And vice versa. That’s why she isn’t worth it,” She laughed lightly, trying to get me to look at this her way, “Hell, if I didn’t know so much right now about Lucy, I’d have let you tear her apart limb by limb.”
“Hey!” She shouted, “Who the hell do you think you are?”
“I’m the same girl I’ve always been Lucy. And be grateful, because if it wasn’t for me right now, Tyler would still be yelling at you like a crazy person.”
Her eyes brightened just slightly, “Oh, he’s the crazy one?”
Nicola took a step closer, “I’m not crazy. I’m smart. I’m informed. And you know what else I am Lucy?”
She laughed, “What? Enlighten me.”
“I’m strong enough to take the high road and not sink to your despicable level.”
Lucy glowered at Nicola, but almost as soon as she had finished, her energy ran dry and she fell into my arms. I picked her up bridal style, her arms naturally going around my neck and her face burrowing deep into my shoulder. Zach and Adam came up beside me, while Damien started talking to the audience. His voice followed us as we walked down the hall..
“I’m ashamed of all of you!” His voice boomed, “You always tell us to welcome everyone! You pride yourself on your goddamn hospitality! But the minute you see someone who you don’t know and is struggling, you pounce like vultures. Do you not see the girl in front of you sobbing? When we came here last year, you welcomed us. You were kind to us. Even when we weren’t very open about why we were here, you didn’t push us. What’s different about Nicola? Is it she’s a girl? Is it that she’s from the big city? What is it that you are all so fucking afraid of that you have to take away all her self confidence?” Even though I couldn’t see it, I knew he was directing this to Lucy, “What did this girl say or do to you specifically that you treat her like a piece of garbage? What makes you all so much more special? You want to know who’s weak and like a little kid? You. You’re just petty people.”
He yelled louder now, as if trying to wake up anyone who had fallen asleep somehow, “She didn’t do a damn thing to any of you! And what do you do?! Take away any self-confidence she could possibly have left after years of verbal abuse by other people who are just like you! Ashamed,” His voice lowered as he walked away, “Fucking ashamed of all of you.”
As soon as I stopped listening to Damien, I realized the stage manager had come running up to us, “Oh goodness, is she okay?”
“Did anyone see that?” Zach asked.
She immediately shook her head, “I was able to stop the feed as soon as I realized the curtain was falling. Luckily the other managers weren’t upset about loosing the last few seconds of the song. Our main priority is to have no one else see who was singing.”
“But our whole town just did.”
She sighed, “I’m sorry, what’s your name?”
“Tyler, I hate to break it to you, but your town is the smallest one in Georgia. Even if every single one of them voted against her, you still have the whole state voting. You don’t know what they are going to vote. Nicola can still win this competition. Those people out there, their voice is lower than the rest.”
“But every vote counts,” Nicola whispered into my ear, making me jump and her chuckle lightly.
“Here’s her dressing room. If you want to find a way to clean her up, I’ll make sure no one comes back here to bother you.”
“It would be awesome if you could just kick them out,” Adam mumbled.
“Trust me,” She called as she swung out the door, “If I could, I would.”
“Nicola,” I whispered to her, “Are you okay?”
She choked and laughed at the same time, “Do I look okay Tyler?”
I pressed my lips to her forehead, but she shrunk away from me. For a moment I couldn’t even move and she wiggled from my grasp and back onto her feet. Everything in me told me to go to her. That she needed me, but by the way she stood uncomfortably in the room, I realized just how hurt she was.
Lucy would always pound her into the ground, and she could handle that. She could laugh it up and say it was her being born on the wrong side of the bed or something equally likely, but this time was different, she was battered and bruised, something obviously not right once again. She couldn’t handle it. She had been overworked and over used, her mind barely holding on to anything that could possibly be left.
“Nicola,” I tried again, moving closer, but again she moved away.
“I need a cell phone,” She mumbled and Zach quickly produced our only one.
“Here,” He said as he handed it to her then watching as she avoided any contact with his fingers.
Nicola said her thank you’s, but they were half hearted as she started dialing the phone with a number she knew without even having to think. We heard it ringing, Zach always leaving the volume at the loudest level it could possibly go, and we heard a boy’s voice answer.
“Luca,” She breathed out, relieved that he had answered.
“Ciao bella,” You could hear his smile through the phone, “What are you up to?”
“I can’t do it.”
The phone made crackling noises as the boy shifted, “Can’t do what sweetheart? What’s the matter?”
Nicola began explaining and he said what he thought of the matter, most of it in a different language that I recognized as italian. Soon another man and woman joined in and she retold the story, her voice slowly melting as she had to repeat it, relive it and remember every word they said. She had been listening, she hadn’t blocked them out at all. She knew every word that was said about her in that auditorium.
“Nicola,” The older man, Sal I believed, asked, “Do you want us to come down? We’ll fly down tonight on the next flight if we have to.”
“No, no, no,” She protested, her voice masking the tears on her face, “Don’t waste your money coming all the way down here boys. I’ll be okay,” She forced out a chuckle, “Like I always am.”
“What about Malum?” Luca interrupted and I watched her face go pale. Her hesitation must have meant something because he spoke louder and more passionately, “Nicola Scarlett Rose, did he do something to you? Because I swear to God, I will be down there within hours if he touched any spot on your body.”
“Luca!” She shouted, then lowered her voice back down, “Malum is the least of my worries. He’s also the least of my fears.”
“He hurt you didn’t he,” Every word was clipped as his anger grew, “Nicola don’t you lie to me.”
She sighed in defeat, something I rarely saw her do, “He got mad at me. I went out to eat with someone this morning. Climbed out the window and didn’t tell him. He wanted a sandwich, found out I wasn’t home. Scared the shit out of me when I got back though,” A faint laugh, as if trying to brighten the situation, “Then he hit me. Multiple times of course. It wouldn’t be Malum if it was just one and done.”
Luca cursed again and we were all frozen as she confessed something to us. Well indirectly to us.
“I’m coming down there.”
“And do what?” She yelled at him, “In a couple hours, he’ll be mad at me once again because I snuck out. In a couple hours, you’ll be here to do what to him? Report him? Arrest him? He’ll kill you, Luca. Cornelius did it to Robbie and he was his own damn son. You mean nothing to Malum. You’re only Sal’s kid. And Sal is only Marianna’s brother. And Marianna is dead,” She choked on the last word and I wanted to go to her, but Adam held my shoulder.
“Who’s in the room with you?” Luca asked.
Suddenly Nicola’s head snapped up and she scanned us, realizing what she had just said, “Oh shit.”
“Who is in there?!” Sal and Lola screamed.
I spoke up, “Tyler, Adam, Zach, and Damien.”
Luca sighed, “Okay. That’s okay. If Nicola trusts you, I trust you,” By the way she cringed, she realized that he had given away something she hadn’t been ready to admit to us yet, “Nicola, I want you to stay with them. Don’t go home. Do not go into that apartment for anything. Alright? We’ll be down there tomorrow morning,” The phone made more noises as he moved, “We’re packing up now.”
“What about the Deli?” She asked, I could hear the desperation in her voice as she tried to prevent them from arriving, “Who will take care of it?”
“I don’t give a flying fuck about the damn deli Nicola and you know that. If you are in trouble, I am coming down there as soon as I fucking can.”
“Luca!” Lola shouted in the background, then took hold of the phone, “I think Sal and I will have to stay home. His doctor doesn’t recommend flying, or stress for that matter.”
“Lola!” Sal screamed from somewhere and I watched Nicola’s eyes brighten for a moment, “I don’t care about the damn doctor, my little bella is in trouble and a damn disease is not going to stop me from seeing her when she needs me most!”
“Sal, don’t you dare come down here!” Nicola yelled into the phone, a hint of a smile brightening up her face, “I swear, I will find something horrible to do to you if you show up tomorrow! And tell Luca to not come down here by himself! Tell him to just stay home! I’ve handled this before and I can handle it again!”
“Yeah fucking right,” Luca yelled, “Like I’m going to leave you alone to face Malum on your own. What kind of friend would I be if I did that?”
“The same friend you’ve always been,” She mumbled just low enough for them not to hear, then spoke to them again, “Do not come here Luca. I do not want you to get hurt.”
“By who?” He scoffed, “The big bad wolf who chews up the people who can’t stand up for themselves. He’s a damn coward Nicola and I’m not afraid of him.”
Now she began shouting again, the love for Luca showing clearly all over the concern, “You should be dammit! Do you have any idea what he is capable of? He’s killed people! He’s tortured me! The only reason I’m still alive, Luca, is because he realized I was useful for making food! Alright? I’m not yelling and screaming because I don’t want to be saved. I’m yelling at you because I know Malum better and I know that that son of a bitch will not go easy on you when you arrive in this town.”
“I’ll bring back-up!” He yelled back at her, making her stamp her foot in frustration, then wince at the pain, “Bye Nicola!”
“Luca!” She screamed one last time, but he had already disconnected the phone, “That damn boy,” Nicola looked to the ceiling and shook her head, “What to do with him.”
“Nicola,” Zach finally said, catching her attention, “Who was that?”
“Luca Pietro,” She answered, then began to change from her dress, “Well, you just found out my biggest secret,” The dress pooled at her feet, showing off her shorts and bra, “And so there’s no point trying to hide anything now. There’s nothing to hide. That’s the extent of my life,” Nicola picked up a t-shirt and pulled it over her head before searching through a stack for something, “Nothing left to hide now. “
“Nicola,” Damien started, but she cut him off.
“I’m sure most of you had it half-way figured out already because I’m not the best at hiding shit to begin with, but the point is that I’m more comfortable with you figuring it out yourselves than me telling you,” She paused, “Or, in this case, you hearing it from me when I’m not paying attention.”
“Who’s Luca?” I asked.
Nicola turned to me, her eyebrows up, shorts half-way up her thighs, “Are you jealous Tyler? Because I do sense just the tiniest undertone there. Why does it matter who Luca Pietro is?”
“Because he’s coming here.”
“To help me, Tyler. Not you. So it’s none of your business,” She finished pulling up her shorts and started to gather all of her stuff together.
“Nicola,” I tried to make it sound pleading, but for some reason, jealousy overrode me and it came out like a warning growl.
“What Tyler?” She asked.
“Why won’t you just tell me?”
“Because when has it become your business?”
“Since he knew exactly who I was and said you trust us and now you’re acting like we found out something top secret because we dug into it!”
“And when has that had anything to do with Luca? Great I’m acting weird. Like that hasn’t happened before, I mean seriously Tyler,” She stepped closer to me, our proximities suddenly entering my mind, “Why does it matter so fucking much? The last time you learned something about me, you went off like a flare. Now here you are, mad at me again when you just found out something else I didn’t want you to know.”
“Why shouldn’t I know?”
“Because what do you care Tyler? Why do you even bother with me?”
I sighed, my feet instinctively going to her, “I care about you Nicola. I really do.”
Her eyes hardened and I realized just then how badly hurt she was, “Well, you know what? Big surprise here, I don’t care about you.”
“Then why did you stop me from beating up Lucy?” Her eyes flamed and she went to turn away, but I put my arm in front to block her but not touch her, “If you didn’t care about me, why did you leave?”
“I don’t have to answer to you,” She muttered.
“Nicola,” I whispered, leaning down so my lips were next to her ear, “You’re right. You don’t. And you have every right to be mad at me. But while you were off in New York with Luca, I was here, scared shitless about what you were doing.”
“Luca’s my cousin on my mom’s side. Sal is the dad I never had. He’s a brother to me Tyler. If you honestly thought after all I’ve been through, that the moment something went wrong, I’d immediately find someone else, then you obviously don’t know me.”
Now it was my turn to turn away, my anger flaring again at everything I had done wrong. I marched around the room, Adam tried to hold me back, but I couldn’t stop. I pounded my fist straight into the white board. Someone yelped. My arm went back again, white hot pain pulsing through the nerves, making me want it more. It swung forward, but before I could create a deeper dent, a hand went over that fist.
“You may not know me, but I know you. And you don’t want to do that, Tyler. I know you’re mad. What you’re mad about? I don’t know, but don’t take it out on yourself.”
“What if I’m mad at myself?”
“About what? What made you mad at yourself?”
I sighed in defeat, “Watching you,” I lifted my gaze from the floor and into her eyes, “Watching you fall apart in front of everyone. Looking at what these people’s words did to your heart and remembering all the words that I said to you that shouldn’t have been said. I thought of how badly I hurt you that when I went to comfort you, you thought I was just going to hurt you more. I fucked up so badly, Nicola and that’s why I’m mad at myself, because the time you needed me the most, I had ruined all my chances.”
She smiled lightly, “Not all of them.”
Within a blink, her lips were on mine and I felt like we were back to normal. I felt like she had begun to accept what I did as a mistake and take me back. Let me be here for her and help her because she knew she needed it. Correction: she knew I needed to be there for her.
“So,” My fingers intertwined with hers, “Will you be accompanying me in my bed tonight?”
She rolled her eyes ever so slightly and I saw a glimpse of the Nicola I had once known, “Sorry, but Malum will kill me if I’m not found asleep in mine tomorrow morning.”
Zach stepped beside her, “No. I will not allow you to sleep in that apartment with him anywhere near you.”
“What are you gonna do Zach? I warned Luca. I’ll warn you. If you want Malum to be in a good mood tomorrow morning, then I’d suggest letting me sleep in my bed. If he be-” She choked on the word, shook her head, and started over, “If he beats me again, I’ve made it my whole life. I can last another couple.”
“Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should Nicola,” His voice became edgier.
“When was the last time someone hit you Zach?” He paused, thinking, “During that time, what did you want? For it to stop for that one time, or for you to push through because you knew it would stop forever if you just made it. As much as I’d like to say I don’t know Malum, I can’t, because I know him better than anyone. I’ve seen every side of his moods, every temper, every kind gesture. I can read every movement he makes to figure out what to say, what to do, how to act. I’m safer in that apartment facing him, then not being there and having to face his wrath later.”
Zach grumbled, “I hate when you’re right.”
Nicola smiled lightly again, squeezing my hand, “I love when you’re wrong.”
“Let’s at least get her home soon enough so Malum,” Adam had trouble referring to him like that for some reason, “Won’t be all pissy about it.”
“Pissy wouldn’t be a word I’d use to describe Malum, but that works.”
With one last squeeze that told me we were okay for now, we both set out to clean up all of Nicola’s stuff and get her back as quickly as possible. On our way out, we told Emily we were voting for Nicola and if she could count those votes so we didn’t have to stay. Although, technically we would have to watch the rest of the performers, she knew that nothing would stop us from voting for her, so she let us go.
I gave her a goodnight kiss and promised that I would be on the fire escape tomorrow morning, waiting for her, with breakfast so she wouldn’t have to even leave the room. She smiled at that, but I could still see everything in her eyes. I didn’t know what could possibly fix someone as broken as she. If anything, a lot of breakfast’s and lunches and dinners together. I wouldn’t mind. Just a week away from this girl had driven me crazy. If Malum did what she thought he was capable of doing, I’d be like Bella in those Twilight movies when Edward is gone: unable to move from a chair and only look out a window, everything reminding me of Nicola Scarlett Rose.
I had fallen hard. Watching her crawl into her cruel world, I realized I hadn’t fallen like any lovestruck teenager. I had fallen for a girl who was strong, independent, and smart. If anything, I had fallen for the right girl. I didn’t care if we were still teenagers, I knew that I wanted to be in her life. I’ve known it since the day I first saw her. No matter what happens, I want to be involved. As a boyfriend, as a husband, as a friend, or just as a business partner. I wanted to be able to see that girl as often as I possibly could.
Hey guys :) Guess what! I'm on Wattpad too now! I don't know how to work it, so you'll find me slowly putting up my novels here and then there. SImple :) And we are almost done with this! Then comes my next novel and I'll tell you the title: Adrenaline. Exciting, right? :D so yes, That's my notes for today! I'll be posting the summary and character pics soon, but the novel will take a bit more time because I want to be on like chapter fifteen or twenty before I start posting so that you don't have to wait for forever for my updates :) Love you! ~Manda<3